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Monday, Dec. 24, 2007

Matsurida Gogh surprises in Arima Kinen

Staff writer

FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. — This year's stars failed to shine in the year-end wrapup Arima Kinen, embarrassingly eclipsed by Matsurida Gogh, a dark horse that had yet to win a top-level race.

Matsurida Gogh, a far ninth choice in the 2,500-meter Arima, got a dream ride under Masayoshi Ebina to claim victory by a length and a quarter, while top picks Meisho Samson, Vodka and Pop Rock all missed the money.

Pop Rock, race third pick, was the only one of the top three picks to make the board, more than four lengths off the winner in fifth.

Three-year-old filly Daiwa Scarlet, race fifth pick, showed impressive tenacity as she held on for second place.

It was, however, no balm for the more than 110,000 fans packing the stands. Cries of disbelief and dark waves of discontent followed racing programs, newspapers and losing tickets launched into the air as the runners — Matsurida Gogh, Daiwa Scarlet, Daiwa Major, Roc de Cambes and Pop Rock — passed the finish pole.

Where was the likes of Vodka's dizzying Derby performance? Where was the likes of Meisho Samson's show of strength in this year's Emperor's Cups?

Instead, the crowd was left reeling by a double shot, the likes of Samson in eighth place and Vodka in 11th.

Winning jockey Ebina was himself surprised to find himself in the winner's circle.

"He felt good coming into the straight," Ebina said of Matsurida Gogh, "and I thought he'd do well, but never that he'd win," the usually cool Ebina said with a wide-eyed stunned look on his face.

The Sunday Silence-sired 4-year-old, out of the Bel Bolide mare Paper Rain, made the break well, but was hard put to find a good position.

"I had planned to lead if no one went," said Ebina, but with Chosan pulling the 16-strong field, Matsurida Gogh was a bit too keen and Ebina struggled for position.

Still, Ebina managed to hold a third-place position on the rail until the final turn, where he stepped into the lead as the field straightened.

Meisho Samson and Vodka, on the other hand, both rounded the final bend wide, especially surprising as Yutaka Take, partnered with Meisho Samson, had drawn the No. 1 gate.

His failure to take advantage of the inside draw and a late move from a position four off the rear, will surely draw sharp criticism from the fans.

To be fair, Samson's performance was flat. Stalking Derby champion Vodka for most of the race, he showed little response and no spark in the stretch.

Ebina, who just the previous day topped 100 wins for the year, repeatedly expressed his surprise at the prestigious win.

"The horse was in excellent shape, but I wasn't confident enough to boast that we could win it," he admitted. Ebina bagged his first Arima in six years, following his 2001 win aboard Manhattan Cafe.

Matsurida Gogh, trained by the Miho, Ibaraki Prefecture-based Sakae Kunieda, is owned by Fumie Takahashi. The colt was bred at Okada Stud in Hokkaido's Shizunai. He is now 7-for-17, with the ¥180 million for the Arima win boosting his earnings to just short of ¥389 million.

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